Senate honors Pensacola shooting victims, first responders

A vehicle drives by a tribute to victims of the Naval Air Station Pensacola that was freshly painted on whats known as Graffiti Bridge in downtown Pensacola, Fla., on Saturday, Dec. 7, 2019. (AP Photo/Brendan Farrington)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Victims and first responders who took action last month after what has been declared an act of terrorism at a Pensacola military base were honored Tuesday as the Florida Senate began the 2020 legislative session.

Senate President Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, recognized victims, survivors and emergency workers who responded after a Royal Saudi Air Force second lieutenant killed three people and wounded eight others Dec. 6 at Naval Air Station Pensacola.

Galvano credited Sen. Doug Broxson, R-Gulf Breeze, for putting together the brief recognition so people from NAS Pensacola and the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office -- seated in the Senate gallery and watching from home -- could be recognized for their “heroism and their dedication not just to the state of Florida but to the United States of America.”

U.S. Attorney General William Barr and FBI Deputy Director David Bowdich on Monday announced the findings of a month-long investigation into the shooting, concluding the “evidence shows the shooter was motivated by jihadist ideology,” Barr said.

Airman Apprentice Cameron Walters, 21, from Savannah, Ga., Navy Airman Mohammed Shahed Haitham, 19, from St. Petersburg, and Navy Ensign Joshua Kaleb Watson, 23, from Enterprise, Ala., were killed in the attack.

Galvano noted that Haitham played high school basketball with the son of Sen. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg.

The recognition came amid what is usually a day of pomp as the Legislature kicked off its annual session.

Galvano, entering his 16th and final session, expressed in comments to the Senate that Tallahassee will display a different style of government than what is often portrayed in Washington, D.C.

“As we go into this session, let us continue to show our constituents that we can exchange and debate ideas while maintaining civility and decorum,” Galvano said. “That we can problem-solve together. That we can put aside personalities and politics for good policy. And, that we are not a microcosm of Washington, D.C., but instead we will continue to be an example for Washington, D.C.”

Other than the state budget, Galvano didn’t address specific topics before the Senate.

“As I have reminded you in the past, you come into this chamber to carry the responsibility for the hundreds of thousands of people each of you represent, and those microphones on your desk amplify their voices. I respect that,” Galvano said. “And again, let us conduct our business with the discipline to look at the big picture as opposed to personal agendas, to look at what we are doing for the people of Florida as a whole.”

A year ago, Galvano gave each member an hourglass inscribed with a quote attributed to President Abraham Lincoln: “The best thing about the future is it comes one day at a time.”

With Gov. Ron DeSantis in attendance Tuesday, Galvano said he looks forward to working with the executive branch as well as his House counterparts “as we craft our budget and our policies for the benefit of the people of the great state of Florida.”

Galvano noted he is term-limited later this year, along with Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers, Sen. Oscar Braynon, D-Miami Gardens, Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, and Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs.

“We’re all veterans. We know the issues. Every one of us knows what the issues are that we are about to face,” Galvano said. “We all know at the end of the day they’re all tied to the budget and how we negotiate the budget. I trust you. I have confidence in you.”

Galvano concluded with a quote from Mother Teresa, ‘Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today. Let us begin.’”

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